More Inconvenient Truth

The only thing more depressing than listening to our political and pundit classes soundbite their ways around the subject of the war in Iraq without every addressing the core issue of America’s addiction to Middle Eastern oil, is listening to their plans to reform the American healthcare system. Blah, blah, yak, yak, nothing ever changes, and the core problem with healthcare in America is never mentioned:

And these health insurance companies are — they’re just — they’re the Halliburtons of the health industry. I mean, they really — they get away with murder. They charge whatever they want. There’s no government control. And frankly, we will not really fix our system until we remove these private insurance companies. I mean, they literally have to be eliminated. They cannot be allowed to exist in this country.

Takes Michael Moore to say it because, unlike all of the people running the country, he’s not on the payroll of the insurance and pharmaceutical corporations. Also, he has no illusions about the limitations of free-market capitalism:

We have an economic system, as I’ve said before, it’s unjust, it’s unfair, it’s not democratic. And until, ultimately, that changes, until we construct a different form of economy in a way that we relate to capital, I don’t think that — I think we’ll continue to have these problems, where the have-nots suffer and the haves make off like bandits.

This is the heart of our conundrum: our economic system is killing us, but the people in charge are all winners in that system, so nothing ever changes.

Michael Sky

Saving the Internet

AT&T CEO Edward Whitacre is retiring soon and in a good bye address to his shareholders he declared:

There’s a problem. It’s called Net Neutrality. Well, frankly, we say to hell with that. We’re gonna put up some toll booths and start charging admission.

In Thinking Peace I make the case that the Internet is the best hope that we have as a planet for getting through the hard times ahead. Nothing matters more than keeping a free flow of information to all people, regardless of income. If the Whitacre’s of the world — the rich elites — get their way, information will be parcelled out on an ability-to-pay basis only.

We need to keep the Internet as free and open as possible. For more, go to Save the Internet.

Michael Sky

Bush in Fantasyland

Joseph Cirincione deconstructs Bush’s recent attempts to start a new arms race:

President Bush is rushing to deploy a technology that does not work against a threat that does not exist. Iran is at least 5 to 10 years away from the capability to build a nuclear weapon and at least that far from having a missile that could hit Europe let alone the US. And anti-missile systems are still nowhere near working despite $150 billion spent since the 1983 Star Wars program started and years of phony tests staged to demonstrate ‘progress’ and ‘success.

As in the past when Bush has gone after non-existing threats — those missing WMD in Iraq — we are once again being told one thing and sold another. In Iraq, the purpose all along was to get rid of Saddam and install a permanent US presence in the region to control Iraq’s oil. Reviving Star Wars has less to do with keeping America safe than with keeping weapons manufacturers busy and prospering. And, rhetoric aside, it has nothing to do with helping the Europeans or anyone else.

The fact is the Czechs don’t want the radar, the Europeans don’t trust his explanations and deplore his unilateralism, the Congress has already cut the funds on purely programmatic grounds. This was a dumb idea before, now it is yet another foreign policy disaster.

But a potential golden feather in the cap of Bush and his corporate cronies, a policy that will go on paying huge dividends long after he’s out of office.

Michael Sky

Why Cuba Is Exporting Health Care to the U.S.

Being America means never having to learn from other countries. Despite massive evidence that virtually every developed nation in the world has a better healthcare system than America, Americans dismiss them all with the no-think “socialized medicine” and carry on with a system that just gets worse with every passing year. So, there’s no chance that we will learn anything at all from Sarah Van Gelder’s exploration of Cuban healthcare, but it’s still a good read:

House calls are routine, in part because it’s the responsibility of the doctor and nurse team to understand you and your health issues in the context of your family, home, and neighborhood. This is key to the system. By catching diseases and health hazards before they get big, the Cuban medical system can spend a little on prevention rather than a lot later on to cure diseases, stop outbreaks, or cope with long-term disabilities. When a health hazard like dengue fever or malaria is identified, there is a coordinated nationwide effort to eradicate it. Cubans no longer suffer from diphtheria, rubella, polio, or measles and they have the lowest AIDS rate in the Americas, and the highest rate of treatment and control of hypertension.

For health issues beyond the capacity of the neighborhood doctor, polyclinics provide specialists, outpatient operations, physical therapy, rehabilitation, and labs. Those who need inpatient treatment can go to hospitals; at the end of their stay, their neighborhood medical team helps make the transition home. Doctors at all levels are trained to administer acupuncture, herbal cures, or other complementary practices that Cuban labs have found effective. And Cuban researchers develop their own vaccinations and treatments when medications aren’t available due to the blockade, or when they don’t exist.

Most important is the idea of medical care in the homes and neighborhoods, with friends and neighbors providing care. Socialized medicine, indeed.

Michael Sky

The Rich get Richer; Regular People Lose Ground

Larry Beinhart gives an excellent explanation of our funny money economy:

When a government wants an economy to grow, it throws money at it.

The administration did that with spending on pharmaceuticals, homeland security, and a couple of wars. But their most important weapon of choice was tax cuts for the rich, especially on unearned income, capital gains, inheritance, dividends, and interest.

This was sold, and accepted, on the myth that the rich — the investing class — are the most creative and daring members of our society. Just unleash them and they will march off into the wilderness — actual, urban, or cyber — with sacks of cash over their shoulders and they will build things!Factories! Airlines! Housing! Toys! Computers! Undreamed wonders! Entire new civilizations! With jobs! jobs! jobs! Like an Ayn Rand novel!But that’s not what happened.

Because a shortage of cash was not the problem. The country, the world, is awash with cash.

The problem is that all that cash is flowing from credit sources, not from the production of actual goods and services:

In vastly oversimplified terms the credit economy works like this:

You own a house. It’s worth $100,000.

Someone buys the house, no money down. They borrow that money. Let’s say it’s a straight-line 8 percent, 30-year mortgage. Forget closing costs, points, and any other complications — that’s a $220,000 debt. It goes on the bank’s books as an asset.

Now you have $100,000. The bank has $220,000 (on paper). The buyer has a house worth $100,000. The bank has a lien on it, but the buyer will be gaining equity, plus he can get a second mortgage and home-improvement and other loans on it.

Again, this is a vast oversimplification, but that transaction has “created” something like $420,000 that is now “in play,” as part of the economy.

No “thing” has been created — no new business, no product, no jobs, no idea, no intellectual property, no entertainment.

But money has been created.

For the rich this works out very nicely. For the rest of us, and ultimately for the global economy, it’s a mega-disaster waiting to happen.

Michael Sky

Ignorance In Charge

I was listening to NPR a few mornings ago when NASA administrator Michael Griffin made his jaw-dropping comments re. global warming. So much of what he said was wrong, wrong, wrong, but this really sums up everything wrong about the Bush years:

I guess I would ask which human beings — where and when — are to be accorded the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now, is the best climate for all other human beings. I think that’s a rather arrogant position to take.

The most arrogant nation is history is already deciding — here and now — to alter the global climate in pursuit of power and profit. Bush America is already claiming the privelege to decide global matters without reference to the opinions of others and in direct opposition to actual scientific findings.

Michael Sky

Turning Tar into Oil: An Economic and Environmental Disaster Looms

There is a certain irony there: The United States invaded Iraq at least in part to secure access to its oil. Now, thanks partly to economic blowback from that disastrous decision, it has found the “security” it was looking for right next door. It has become fashionable to predict that high oil prices will spark a free-market response to climate change, setting off an “explosion of innovation in alternatives,” as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote recently.

Alberta puts the lie to that claim. High prices have indeed led to an R&D extravaganza, but it is squarely focused on figuring out how to get the dirtiest possible oil out of the hardest-to-reach places. Shell, for instance, is working on a “novel thermal recovery process” — embedding large electric heaters in the deposits and literally cooking the earth. And that’s the Alberta tar sands for you: The industry already contributing to climate change more than any other is frantically turning up the heat.

The process of refining bitumen emits three to four times the greenhouse gases produced by extracting oil from traditional wells, making the tar sands the largest single contributor to Canada’s growth in greenhouse gas emissions.

Naomi Klein | The Nation